The reaction to the suspension of PPP MNA Farahnaz Ispahani’s National Assembly membership by the Supreme Court for holding dual nationality is predictably split along partisan lines. Supporters of the PPP are blasting the Supreme Court for once again trying to undermine the government while opponents are stressing the importance of having parliamentarians whose loyalties cannot be called into question. The truth lies somewhere in between. The law clearly states that a person cannot hold dual nationality and serve in parliament so Ms Ispahani’s foreign citizenship — if indeed she holds an American passport — should disqualify her from being an MNA. She will also have to explain why she did not declare her US citizenship to the Election Commission of Pakistan, as she is required to do so.
However, just because this law is in place does not automatically make it a good law. Pakistanis holding dual nationality are allowed to vote. If there is no problem with them voting then no one should have issues with them representing their country in parliament. This law may reflect an ideal of citizenship but it ignores reality. Most Pakistanis who have the opportunity to acquire a second citizenship end up doing so because the citizenship of another country is used by many as an escape route should the country continue to go down its current ruinous path. Rather than punishing parliamentarians for holding a second passport, we should be trying to build a country that people are not eager to run away from.
Then there is the perception that the honourable apex court is, perhaps, showing a keen interest in a case that involves the ruling PPP. Proponents of this view cite the memogate, the NRO and the contempt case. But the Supreme Court has also showed an appetite for taking on sacred cows in the Asghar Khan petition and the missing persons case. The Court can now prove its fairness by taking similar punitive measures against parliamentarians from opposition parties who also hold dual nationality. Justice is only served if it is seen to be done across the board. That could, perhaps, help shed the perception that right now Ms Ispahani is perhaps being singled out.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2012.
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